Faith in the Iron City
Published 9:41 am Monday, January 4, 2016
A new church in downtown Birmingham has roots in Shelby County
Story by Katie McDowell
Photos by Jake Hughes and Meredith Watkins
Every Sunday evening, a group of young adults gathers at B&A Warehouse in downtown Birmingham.
The group is not there for a reception, party or concert, however. They are there to worship.
Although Iron City Church meets every Sunday in Birmingham, it has its roots in Shelby County. Iron City Church was launched in September 2014 by Valleydale Church, located in North Shelby.
“It’s a common church (with a) common vision that meets in two different places,” said Jason Dees, who serves as senior pastor of both churches.
That vision includes making a greater impact on downtown Birmingham, as well as creating a more ethnically diverse congregation at both campuses.
Although Iron City Church has been active for only a little over a year, its history starts in 2007. Dees had recently graduated from seminary and was living in Huntsville. He and a friend visited Birmingham to attend a concert, and while walking through downtown, he “felt like the Lord gave me a vision” to start a church in the area.
“It was one of the moments that I felt like God was speaking to me,” he said.
Downtown Birmingham has been revitalized in recent years with new restaurants, entertainment and the relocation of Regions Park. At the time of Dees’ visit, however, downtown had yet to begin its renaissance and was not an obvious choice for a new church.
A few years ago, Dees, who was working at First Baptist Church in Covington, Ga., received a call from Valleydale in their search for their new pastor. During his interview, he shared his vision for what would become Iron City Church.
Dees accepted a position with Valleydale Church in 2013, and planning for Iron City Church began his first week.
In the fall of 2013, the church launched its MAKE Initiative, a two-year plan for “maximizing and broadening the impact of Valleydale’s ministries,” according to the church’s website. One of the goals included making a greater impact on the city of Birmingham by planting a church downtown.
In January 2014, Jason Cook was hired as campus pastor, and Iron City Church launched that September.
The vision for both churches is to build a “multi-ethnic congregation,” which Dees called a “brand new bold vision.” Iron City Church’s motto is “For Diversity. For Unity. For the City. For the Glory of God.”
Dees said progress has been slow, but church members have championed the idea. Dees said nurturing the culture change in an organic, authentic way will take time, but it is a worthwhile investment.
“It’s been hard, but we’re making some headway in both places,” he said.
Both churches need more minorities as leaders and elders, Dees said, but those people are typically long-time members of a church.
“I think that’s going to take some time,” he said.
The two churches share staff, although Cook, Worship Leader Drew Kearney and College Pastor Kameron Pugh spend the majority of their time on Iron City Church.
Dees and Cook split the sermons each week. The Sunday sermons at Valleydale and Iron City typically mirror each other with the same text and theme, although Cook and Dees individualize their sermons.
Although there is some crossover between the two churches, the Iron City congregation skews younger.
“There are a lot of great worshippers there. It’s a young crowd,” Dees said. “It’s 80 percent 18-30 year olds.”
The congregations share a passion for mission work, which Dees said has always been an important part of Valleydale Church.
“That DNA spread to Iron City,” he said. “That’s the heartbeat of the church at large.
Today, the two church campuses attract about 1,200 worshippers to their Sunday services. About 200-250 people attend Iron City’s evening service, while Valleydale draws about 900-1,000 at two morning services.
Service times: Sunday at 9:15 and 10:45 a.m.
Address: 2324 Valleydale Road, Birmingham
Iron City Church
Service times: Sunday at 5 p.m.
Location: B&A Warehouse
Address: 1531 1st Avenue S, Birmingham